He who denied it supplied it

I have a kind of a general rule here I stick by most of the time: the people worthy of criticism are people who can plausibly be said to have some effect on the opinions of a non-ideological set of people.  However right wing George Will is, many people (except Kramer) find him "intelligent"; so his arguments and factual assertions to them are well grounded and worth considering.  In a similar fashion, many conservative or moderate readers, will think Thomas Friedman and Richard Cohen represent decisive liberal voices.  So, when those two jokers come out in favor of the latest Mid-East policy disaster, then people who oppose it must be really crazy.  

I generally avoid (not always however!) ridiculously ideological venues such as the Wall Street Journal or the National Revue, I mean "Review."  I'm sure they have some role in the debate, but they get picked apart by other more competent people than me, and their arguments are mostly directed at inflaming the passions of the converted.

Just for fun, however, let's examine the following bit of ridiculousness from Daniel Henninger of the Wall Street Journal.  A propos of Obama's "socialism" he writes:

Don't expect "Capitalism" to make the White House theater.

The movie is largely a paean to plaintiffs lawyers and unions, who alas depend on evil capitalism for their incomes. Still, it's been noted that "Capitalism" slams Democratic Sen. Chris Dodd for being one of the unseemliest friends of Angelo Mozilo, the former CEO of Countrywide Financial, the famous subprime toxic waste site.

In fact, Mr. Moore holds up to ridicule a Who's Who of notable Democrats for selling out to the bankers: Tim Geithner, Larry Summers and Robert Rubin. At this point in Mr. Moore's narrative, all hope is lost, sinking beneath satanic capitalism.

But something happened, the movie says, that no one saw coming. "Change is what's happening." We are introduced to the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama (whose post-election supervisory link to the unseemly Geithner and Summers goes unremarked).

Of all the issues raised in the two-year campaign, Mr. Moore picks one, the famous charge that will not die: "Obama is a socialist."

Unlike the president, Mr. Moore doesn't duck. "The more they called Obama a socialist," he says, "the more he rose in the polls."

Michael Moore is a progressive saint. If he believes Barack Obama is a socialist camouflaged inside a Brioni suit, so must many of his fellow progressives.

This matters because the president's confused ideological identity has become an impediment to passing his agenda.

He says his health-care bill is not a Trojan horse for a Canadian-style single-payer system, but then feels forced to appear on five Sunday talk shows to prove otherwise; or he plants white-coated docs like plastic flamingos on the White House lawn.

On the first September anniversary of the end of Wall Street as we know it, Mr. Obama stood in the Federal Hall on Wall Street to say, "I've always been a strong believer in the power of the free market." Only a therapist could explain why some people say, "I've always been . . ."

You get a little of the ad hominem tu quoque in their at the opening (with a bit of false dichotomy–either capitalism or socialism are the only apparent choices), and some strange Michael Moore says "socialist" so ergo ipso fatso it must be true that many Obama supporters think he is (therefore Obama must be. . .).  The real silliness of this argument, however, consists in the claim that answering straw men attacks on your position means they are true.

That's a kind of double sophistry: you call someone a name, and then claim you're justified if the person bothers to tell you that you're calling her a name.  Why would she respond if it weren't true?

9 thoughts on “He who denied it supplied it”

  1. Can anyone prove its a strawmen that a government provided insurance plan could lead to single payer? I know Obama has said that a single payer system is not his intention, and Hennigers argument, about Obama defending himself proves his real intention, is definitely silly. However, couldnt a government run plan lead to single payer?
    A government run plan would be not for profit and funded by in part by tax dollars. It definitely depends on the details, but if it isnt constrained by the need to show a strong bottom line to shareholders, its not hard to see how such a program could put companies out of business that do have such constraints.
    I am not arguing here that a public option is good or bad for our healthcare system; I just wonder if its truly a strawmen, regardless what the president promises.

  2. Well, there is a great deal of distance between a public insurance option and the Canadian or British single-payer AND government-run systems.  We are nowhere near those.  Single payer does not entail you have a government-run system (like the British and Canadians).

    This debate, I think, ought to be run on the basis of actuality.  Henninger doesn’t seem to care about that in the least.

  3. One does not need to disprove an abstract possibility. There is an abstract possibility that the sun will go nova in the next three weeks. This abstract possibility cannot (logically, at least) be held up as a valid reason to dismiss efforts to reform health care in the US. Similarly, the abstract possibility that the US might turn to a single payer system after engaging in some type of health care reform now is just — literally — grabbing at straws.

    The strawman is predicated upon asserting a claim as fact that has no actual bearing on the argument made. It is a species of Red Herring insofar as it distracts from the facts and actual arguments made with irrelevant appeals to claims that were not made and that do not follow from claims that were made. There is also the blatantly post hoc issue: even if a single payer system did come about after some manner of health care reform that bore at least an arguable resemblance to anything that is currently on the table, such a conjunction of events could not legitimately be held up as an instance of causality.

  4. Just because a company is privately run does not make it more efficient. The myth that private enterprise is naturally constrained by profit and duty to its shareholders has not made the health care industry more efficient. The problem has been that health care companies are less efficient and incur higher costs than public health care found in other countries. So, if these inefficient, high cost health care companies, who receive a huge amount of tax-payer subsidies, can be beaten in the “free market” by a public plan, SO WHAT! It will just make them have to adapt and become more efficient, meaning they will have to reduce CEO and executive pay, cut administrative costs, and reduce their already outrageous profits. Let us not forget that some health care giants (like Blue Cross/Blue Shield) are supposedly not-for-profit. My good friend did finance for them for a few years and found that a huge problem he often faced was trying to keep profits low enough to maintain that status, which meant spending money on as much stuff as possible — on bonuses and other perks.

  5. “Michael Moore is a progressive saint. If he believes Barack Obama is a socialist camouflaged inside a Brioni suit, so must many of his fellow progressives.”
    This claim is obviously ridiculous. If Henninger had paid attention during the film, Moore’s point was NOT that he thinks Obama is a socialist. That’s why Moore took great pains to show how Obama and his Democratic compatriots are more in line with the interests of the bankers than with the interests of the people. It’s the Right that thinks Obama is a socialist. But Moore’s point was that the idea that Obama might have some populist ideas endeared him to voters, even if the reality of Obama’s agenda was not populist at all (hence the calling out of Dodd, Geithner, and Summers).

  6. There is a great deal of difference between a public option and single payer. However, one could, conceivably, lead to the other. I do not know that this will happen here, but its seems far more probable than the sun going nova in the next couple weeks.
    I dont see a post hoc issue here either. The policy could put the private insurance market out of business. Without a viable private insurance market, there would be one chief payer left: the government.
    The strength of this argument depends on the actual details. If the public option is supported by relatively weak subsidies, then there is little possibility of it destroying the private insurance market. If the public option is supported by strong subsidies, it could (causally?) lead to there being one payer left. This is for an economist to decide, not us abstractly.
    Finally, Jem, I am not making any claim about what is best is best for the healthcare system. Perhaps, the public option or single payer would make the healthcare system more efficient. What bothers me is that some opposing arguments are being dismissed too casually.

  7. Hey Tristan,

    There is nothing logically impossible about a slow move from a self-supporting public option to British-style national health.  They’re both health care delivery systems, after all.  More importantly, however, the public option in its most robust variety is not subsidized at all.  It’s just cheaper insurance offered by the government.  If it works, and people want it, then that’s their choice, as it were.   In addition, there exist a variety of models of universal health care coverage in the developed world.  Many of them work with a robust (but not ridiculous, as we have here) private insurance market.

  8. “I dont see a post hoc issue here either. The policy could put the private insurance market out of business.”

    This is identical to the argument made some 100+ years ago against publicly funded education, it would put private schools out of business. I note that private schools continue to flourish.

    The post hoc issue arises because there are other factors involved than merely the entrance into the market of another provider. There is, for example, the brutish and self-serving stranglehold of insurance companies who recoil at the prospect of actually having to compete in an honest market:

    First of all, if their business practices are so abominable, their services so atrocious, that a government offered option puts them all out of business then anyone who actually believes in market economy will cheer over the death of inefficient and grotesque systems that needed to be buried long ago. The only way a government option can put private insurers out of business is if the government option is so superior to the private one’s that people abandon the latter.

    Secondly, even if they did go out of business (a manifestly absurd notion, by the bye) it would not be the coincedence of a government system that caused them to do so, but their own grotesque inability to compete in a market that demanded better options.

    Thirdly, I’m pretty certain that private insurance still exists in Canada and Europe for those who choose to pay for it. Am I mistaken on this point? Perhaps you can provide the documentation showing how government options obliterated the private ones “over there” (even as they made health care significantly better there than “over here” …)

  9. I think the idea is that a “public option” will out-compete private insurance because it has no bottom line and can operate at a loss, meaning that it is subsidized with tax dollars. However, private insurance already receives a fair amount of subsidies itself, especially with respect to employer provided insurance. That means that private insurance companies are already quasi-public entities, except for the fact that they are not beholden to the tax payers. From a competition standpoint then, the crucial question is, to what extent will the government subsidize a public option. Advocates of a public plan have claimed that the public entity would be entirely self-sufficient and maintained through the premiums paid by it’s recipients — not very different from a privately run corporation. Even if the public option received tax subsidies, the question is, would these subsidies be greater than the subsidies already given to private insurance. And more importantly, will the premiums be lower given an equal amount of subsidies.
    Now, it’s conceivable that the government could abuse it’s market power by so heavily subsidizing the public option such that it’s premiums (and health care outcomes) destroy all private competitors, thus leaving it the only option standing. However, this scenario expressly contradicts the stated intentions of the public option, and the Obama administration has bent over backwards in trying to reassure the private insurance industry that such would not be the case. Perhaps they are lying. I doubt it, and for one simple reason: such an ambitious spending program would require more money than the government has (does it even have money?), at least for health care. Moreover, that type of spending requires congressional approval that could easily be blocked by the vast number of congresspersons that are in the pockets of the health care industry.
    So, let’s leave the simplistic distinction between “public” and “private” alone. When it comes to large-scale industries, the line is always blurred. There is no free market.

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